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February 2012

January 2012

Constellation considerations @RoyalCourt

IMG_0409The journey through to the seats in the Jerwood Upstairs Theatre involves manoeuvring through a jungle of silver ribbons hanging from helium filled balloons* and those above the simple, black rectangular stage are back lit which creates an interesting other-world/molecular effect. Which is of course appropriate in more than one way (you'll have to see the play for a full understanding)

Nick Payne's new piece is about free-will and whether your life is pre-destined, written in the stars I suppose. It is cleverly told as a two-hander, sort of linear story about Marianne (Sally Hawkins) and Roland (Rafe Spall) and how their lives interact. 

However, as this is about free-will vs pre-destination each scene is played out several times with subtle differences to the characters behaviour and outcomes. The result is a series of story threads which interweave with only Marianne, Roland and the location of each scene as the constants.

The enjoyment, aside from its cleverness, is watching the actors work through different shades of their character's personality in quick succession. It almost feels like you are stealing a peak through a crack in the rehearsal room door. A flash of light creates a beat between each version of the scene and the transformations are instant.

I'm not sure what conclusions you can draw from Constellations. It does demonstrate the infinite possibilities and sometimes seismic shift in outcome that can emerge from the subtlest difference in behaviour or decision-making. It is also funny and moving and a treat to watch actors of Hawkins and Spall's ability, flexing their acting muscles in such an unusual way.

I'm going to give it four and a half stars.

Constellations runs at the Jerwood Upstairs at the Royal Court until Feb 11. It's sold out but extra tickets are released for Monday evening performances on the day at 9am. Grab one, well worth it especially as they are only £10.

* I really wanted to 'borrow' one for the 'Favourite theatre things' collection but thought better of it.


As there are only two actors I feel compelled to find a connection each. So here goes, Sally Hawkins was in Layer Cake which Mr W was also in, not sure if they had any scenes together but there are several third and fourth degree connections which @polyg always poo poo's but they are there and involve the likes of Keira Knightly and Romola Garai.

Rafe Spall is a second degree connection as he was in Desperate Romantics which also feature the lovely Samuel Barnett who was in Bright Star with Mr W.

Travelling Light at the Lyttleton - light entertainment?

TravellingLightNicholas Wright's new play Travelling Light is what I like to call 'theatre lite' and I don't necessarily mean that in a derogatory way. It's not a deep play, it's a nice play, charming, engaging for the main part and entertaining which is sometimes just what you need after a hard week.

It's the story of Motl Mendl who returns to the remote village in Eastern Europe where he was born to collect his late father's possessions but while there the seeds to what becomes a long and successful Hollywood filmmaking career are planted. 

The grown up Motl (Paul Jesson) acts as narrator setting the scene to his early life and filling in some of the emotional back story with Damien Molony taking up the reins as the young Motl.

But it is not so much the story of how Motl became a filmmaker and the sacrifices he made that makes this play but the villagers who get involved in his early projects. They are a rich mix of colourful characters with strong views and opinions on how sophisticated city boy Motl should make his film.

The villagers are led by local timber merchant Jacob Bindel (Antony Sher) who is illiterate but nonetheless a successful businessman and the money behind the film project. As you would expect Sher just commands the stage stealing all his scenes - but then he is given most of the best lines. He is a master at his craft and a joy to watch in any role. His Jacob has a distinct way of expressing himself and a distinct vision for the film and naturally, he just can't help but interfere. 

Continue reading "Travelling Light at the Lyttleton - light entertainment?" »

Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio Jan 16 - 22

Compiled by @polyg

A much better selection this week, although to Rev Stan's horror, a lot of it is about musicals (The Miserables, Matilda) but also the Royal Shakespeare Company, Travelling Light at the National Theatre and Finborough.

Tuesday January 17th

13:30pm on Sky Arts 1: show from last year about the South Bank Sky Arts Awards, Melvyn Bragg talks to Bruce Norris, writer of Clybourne Park

2pm at Sky Arts 1: Melvyn Bragg interviews Alan Bennett for the South Bank Show. Another repeat but I don't feel I can be choosy.

9pm on BBC4: Third part of the series The Story of Musicals, the main focus of this show Mamma Mia!, Jerry Springer the Opera and Billy Elliot.

Wednesday January 18th

9am on BBC Radio 6 Music: Steve Pemberton is a guest at the Shaun Keaveny Breakfast show to discuss She Stoops To Conquer which opens in the Olivier Theatre on 31 January 2012. 

10pm on BBC Radio 3: Night Waves reviews Travelling Light, the new play by Nicholas Wright, directed by Nic Hytner and starring Antony Sher.

Thursday January 19th

7:15pm on BBC Radio 4: Another review of Travelling Light by Front Row.

Friday January 20th

3pm on ITV1: Wary to recommend the Alan Titchmarsh Show but the cast of the musical Matilda are the musical guests and will sing songs from the show. Matilda is so fantastic that tramps over all other reservations.

10pm on BBC Radio 2: The Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman interviews artistic director of The National Theatre Nicholas Hytner

Sunday January 22nd

9pm on BBC4: Les Mis at 25: Matt Lucas Dreams the Dream, Matt Lucas celebrates the musical Les Miserables, with contributions by Cameron Mackintosh and Michael Ball, among others. It has been repeated many times but I for one have managed to miss every single one of them.

Catch up on the iplayer from last week

BBC Radio London - Toby Wharton and Victor Gardener from the cast of Fog at Finborough discuss the production, 35 mins into the show

 BBC Radio 4 and the World at One interviews Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and visits the new Stratford theatre backstage (24mins into the show, 2 days left to listen)


Alan Rickman to tread West End boards again?

Alan-Rickman-zv-alan-rickman-6915892-1280-1024I travelled to Dublin for my first chance to see Alan Rickman tread the boards. It was totally worth it just to just to hear his voice as he spoke his first lines from the shadows of the side of the stage. It was a voice that sent shivers down my spine.

But I might not have to travel quite so far to see him again. He's on Broadway in Seminar at the moment but there is talk that it might transfer to the West End later this year - if Mr R will come with it.

Know nothing about the play but the prospect of hearing his dulcet tones will have me grabbing for my credit card should such talk prove fruitful. And lets face it, as I've already said recently here on this blog, for all the juicy theatre morsels on offer this year, we are still lacking some big named castings to really get excited about. Well, castings that I would get excited about at least. 

And because the chances of seeing another Stan fav Benedict Cumberbatch on stage this year are anorexic at best because of all the film work he seems to be signing up for, here is the best of both worlds, a clip of BC impersonating AR.


Well executed Execution of Justice @swkplay

ExecutionofJusticewebSouthwark Playhouse is my adopted theatre for 2012, my first adopted theatre in fact. What it means is that I will see everything, non-musical, they put on in the main house. 

I've always liked the Playhouse's quirky, atmospheric space under the railway arches at London Bridge - a space they put to very good and imaginative use. Not everything I've seen there has been brilliant but enough has been really enjoyable so that I don't have any fears my regular visits will be an endurance.

Aside from the fact that it is also very easy for me to get to Southwark and they have a great cut price ticketing sytem, this will be the last year the theatre is in its current space as London Bridge is due to be redeveloped. So those are the reasons for my choice (and I'm sticking to them).

And the year of adoption has started off in cracking form with the verbatim play Execution of Justice by Emily Mann. With a cast of 20, the play recounts the San Francisco trial of Dan White who shot dead Harvey Milk the first openly gay elected politician and his colleague George Moscone in 1978.

The script comes straight from court transcripts, interviews, reportage and the man on the street, flicking between the trial, events leading up to it and the reaction from the people of San Francisco.

Present pretty much throughout is Dan White (Peter Duguid-McQuillan) who sits impassive to what is going on around him until it is time to recount his story. And in one relatively brief scene, when he hands himself over to his former police colleagues after the murders in a state of extreme emotional agitation Duguid-McQuillan gives the stand out performance.

That scene and Aidan Downing’s Sister Boom Boom, although this might be more to do with the rather revealing drag Queen outfit which includes red PVC hot pants.

Trials can be quite dull but this isn’t because the pace is varied throughout. Formal court scenes are interwoven with re-enactments of pieces of evidence, character witnesses and commentary from people who knew the victims and those that just lived in San Francisco at the time.

However, what really gives Execution of Justice its edge is that in today's society it just seems inconceivable and therefore utterly intriguing how such a brutal and homophobic crime could result in such a light punishment. 

My only slight quibble is there are a couple of scenes where different voices are heard virtually simultaneously and from different parts of the stage which makes it difficult to follow either thread. But it is only a slight quibble in what is an engaging, imaginative and well acted piece.

I'm going to give Execution of Justice four and a half stars. It runs at the Southwark Playhouse until Feb 4, catch it while you can.


Despite the cast of many this was quite tricky but I've found a connection. Kate Harper, who plays three different roles, was in the Children's Hour which starred Keira Knightly was in Atonement with Romola Garai who has, of course, worked with Mr W in the first and second series of The Hour (the latter is currently filming). 


First Shakespeare of 2012: The Tempest at the White Bear

The last production of The Tempest I saw was in the West End, starred Ralph Fiennes and was suitable lavish. But often the inventiveness of small pub theatre productions which have little or no money can add a quirkiness and memorable experience that all the glamour of a big production just can't offer.

This tiny Tempest is set against an abstract backdrop of chess board-like red and green squares dripping down black walls and across a black floor.  It is a theme replicated on Ariel's costume emphasising the spirit's role as key chess piece in Prospero's game with his former adversaries the pawns manoeuvred to his island home.

There is no space for Ariel on a wire here, instead the spirit is portrayed in good old-fashioned movement - and charmingly done by Maya Thomas. Indeed I think Ariel was my favourite in the production often putting a smile on my face.

Caliban too, played  by Yuriria Fanjul - the first time I've seen a woman take the role - rather than use cushions and make up to add deformity this Caliban has ticks and twitches almost punctuating her speeches with beating her arms and chest and pained noises.

The weak points were Prospero (Matthew Ward) and Miranda (Georgina Morell). The former seemed angry when he didn't need to be and too mild when he ought to be angry and vengeful. 

Maybe by design, his relationship with Ariel seemed more true and warm than that with his daughter which seemed to be one of indifference. But then Morrell's Miranda - a girl brought up in isolation with only her Dad and the creature Caliban for company - was so haughty and lacking in any warmth I neither believed that Ferdinand would fall in love with her or that she felt anything other that disdain for him. It puts a different spin on Caliban's attempt to violate her, certainly.

Overall this production has its charms and some lovely moments. I'm going to give it three stars. It runs at the White Bear until 15 January.

Finally some theatre casting news to get excited about

Rom_2010_gallery_10_mercutio_deathNormally at this stage of the year there are at least a small handful of casting/play announcements that have elevated my excitement levels.

But, and I'm in part blaming the Donmar Warehouse for keeping the key casting announcements under wraps for most of its new season, there has been only two Mark Rylance-sized tasty morsels and a Julie Walter's teaser to put a grin on my face.

However, over the weekend there was some news that has finally got me rubbing my hands together in glee. Jonjo O'Neill is to play Richard III at The Swan Theatre in Stratford this year.

Regulars to Stratford will be familiar with O'Neill. For me he was the most memorable turn in the RSC's Romeo & Juliet of two years ago, stealing all his scenes as the lewd, sarcastic and very funny Mercutio. (Felt more sad when he died than when the star-crossed lovers did.)

I've never thought of a younger actor playing Richard III (too busy obsessing about young Hamlets) but at 34 I think O'Neill will bring an interesting energy and a new dimension to the role, particularly in how he plays against other characters. I'm already curious as to what age his counterparts will be. A much older brother as King I think would create interesting dynamic and give fresh take on his motives.

And I am already imagining a performance that plays up his humour and charm in public but which switches with startling speed to malevolance and ruthless scheming in private. 

Thank goodness I've already got tickets to see it - not until July unfortunately, when I make my annual pilgrammage to Stratford with my friend Jen. Richard III opens on March 22 and runs in rep until September 15.

And in celebration, here's a little video clip I found of Jonjo being silly.


Theatre on TV and Radio Jan 9 - 15

Compiled by @polyg

Shamefully short list of one. Front Row (weekdays at 7:15pm on BBC Radio 4) and Saturday Review (14 January at 7:15pm, again on BBC Radio 4) are likely to have some items, but nothing has been announced yet. 

Tuesday January 10

9pm on BBC4: The Story of Musicals, second part of the BBC series focusing on the 1980s and the musicals Cats, Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and Phantom of the Opera. Contributions by Cameron Mackintosh, Tim Rice, Stephen Fry, Trevor Nunn, Elaine Paige, John Caird, Willy Russell and others.


These are a few of our favourite theatre things: @Weez's Bloody Trousers

28122011158Written by @Weez  who writes the Notes From The Earlham Street Gutter blog

My object of choice is this pair of delightfully dysentery-stained trousers as worn by the Ghost of Henry V (Geoffrey Streatfeild) in the RSC’s recent production of Henry VI Part 1.

The RSC were having a wardrobe clearout, and although I couldn’t go myself, my friend was planning to go and promised to get me something I might like, which in this case apparently meant gruesome yet historically accurate trousers.

The RSC production of Henry V literally changed my life, and the Histories Cycle remains the single greatest weekend I have ever experienced.

To me, these trousers are not only a physical memento from that ambitious production, but also hugely symbolic.

Firstly, they're symbolic of the fact that plays - like kings - will eventually come to an end. And while it’s okay to mourn the passing of a Henry V, there’s no reason to stay down, because there’ll be a Henry VI along in due course.

But more than that, they’re also a reminder of the fact I’ve got to know a whole bunch of other theatre nerds over the last year or so, and they’re all wonderfully kind and generous people, who’ll pick up cool things for you from RSC jumble sales, or book a ticket on your behalf, or just be there for a good nerdy chat at the interval or over coffee or on Twitter.

While theatre remains one of the most enjoyable solitary pastimes I have, it turns out that it's even more fun when you have awesome people to share it with. And, of course, a pair of blood-spattered trousers.

If you want to read more about the 'Our Favourite Theatre Things' project on the Rev Stan blog and how you can contribute click here.


Introducing: These are a few of our favourite theatre things

This was @polyg's idea last year, inspired by the Royal Shakespeare Company's celebration of 50 years with 50 objects. Why not, said Poly, get our fellow theatre-goers to write about a favourite object they have in their possession from or associated with a play. 

Brilliant, said I, and started tentatively floating the idea around. Well a few months and a bit of cajoling later we are sort of ready to start. The target is one object/souvenir/story a month for the year but if I can persuade more people to share their stories, then they may become more frequent. 

The first favourite theatre object/story is posted here and if you have a story you'd like to share on the Rev Stan Theatre blog drop me an email. It can be a signed programme, a prop, a ticket stub, even an encounter - anything that has a special theatre-based memory attached to it really - and have an accompanying picture.

Hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I do and am looking forward to (if all of the promised stories are delivered there are some real treats coming up, one involves Arthur Miller but that's all I'll say.)